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Brachial vein

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The venous drainage of the upper limb is not only important for anatomists but also for clinicians. This is so because the procedure of venepuncture requires good knowledge of vascular anatomy in order to execute it safely. The superficial and deep venous drainage of the arm will be discussed in this article with clinical reference.

  1. Course and drainage
  2. Venous arches
  3. Tributaries
  4. Significant relations of the vein
  5. Clinical notes
    1. Surface anatomy
    2. Venepuncture and cannulation
  6. Sources
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Course and drainage

As a general rule of thumb, there are superficial and deep veins in the body.

The brachial veins are deep veins which share the same name of the arteries they accompany. Other examples include the radial and ulnar in the upper limb, and the femoral and popliteal veins in the lower limb.

These deep veins are known as venae commitantes, and are commonly seen to be in pairs either side of the artery, frequently anastomosing with each other.

The superficial veins are often can be seen under the skin and have their own names e.g. basilic, cephalic in the upper limb.

Brachial vein (anterior view)

The brachial vein (deep vein) accompanies the brachial artery in the region of the arm. It is formed by the unification of the ulnar and radial veins at the elbow. The basilic vein joins the brachial vein and becomes the axillary vein at the inferior border of the teres major muscle. At its terminal part the axillary vein is joined by the cephalic vein (this vein runs in the deltopectoral groove). At the lateral margin of the first rib axillary vein continues as the subclavian vein.

Subclavian vein (anterior view)

The subclavian vein then joins the internal jugular vein and is known as the innominate vein, which becomes the brachiocephalic vein. This large vein drains into the superior vena cava and then into the right atrium.

Test yourself on the main veins of the upper limb with this interactive quiz.

Venous arches

The deep and superficial palmar arches are closely associated with the deep and superficial arterial arches of the hand.

There is in fact a mirroring of the arterial anatomy, therefore the proper digital veins unite and drain into the common digital veins, and these drain into the superficial venous palmar arch.

The palmar metacarpal veins drain into the deep palmar venous arch.

The dorsal metacarpal veins receive communicating branches from the palmar metacarpal veins, which then drain into the radial veins and these drain into the dorsal venous network of the hand. This dorsal venous network then drains via the two superficial veins (cephalic and basilic).


The radial veins- These veins accompany the artery of the same name. In the hand, the deep palmar venous arch drains into the radial vein, and then up to the brachial vein. The radial veins are smaller than the ulnar veins and receive the dorsal metacarpal veins.

The ulnar veins- These veins accompany the artery of the same name. In the hand, the superficial palmar venous arch drains into the ulnar vein. The ulnar veins receive the tributaries of the deep palmar venous arches and also communicate with the superficial veins at the wrist. Once the veins near the elbow, they receive further branches from the anterior and posterior interosseus veins and also have a large communicating branch with the median cubital vein.

The cephalic vein- This vein is so named as it runs superficially, all the way from the hand to the subclavian vein i.e. towards the head or ‘cephalic.’ It drains the lateral aspect of the arm and forearm and also forms communications with the deep venous system.

Basilic vein (anterior view)

The basilic vein- This vein runs down the ulnar side of the arm, and also helps in draining the dorsal venous network of the hand. It is shorter then the cephalic vein, and terminates once it joins the brachial vein.

The brachial vein has many perforating branches that drain both the anterior and posterior compartment of the arm. These include such muscles as the three heads of triceps brachii as well as the anterior compartment of the arm i.e. brachialis and biceps brachii. Both the superficial and deep venous system form numerous connections along their course and within each system.

Significant relations of the vein

Within the region of the arm, the brachial vein lies very close to a number of important anatomical structures. It is very close but superficial to the brachial artery and also to the median nerve that descends down the centre of the arm. The other nerves of the upper limb i.e. the radial and the ulnar also have a nearby relationship with the brachial vein.

Median nerve (anterior view)

Brachial vein: want to learn more about it?

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